Kenya’s parliament has voted to back a call for the government to pull out of the International Criminal Court, where the country’s president and his deputy are facing trial for crimes against humanity.
The motion “to suspend any links, cooperation and assistance” to the court was overwhelming approved by the National Assembly on Thursday.
Parliament is dominated by the alliance that brought President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto to power in a March vote.
I am setting the stage to redeem the image of the Republic of Kenya
The two men are accused of orchestrating post-election bloodshed more than five years ago. Both deny the charges.
Many Kenyan politicians have branded the ICC a “neo-colonialist” institution that only targets Africans, prompting the debate on a possible departure from the Rome Statute of the ICC.
“I am setting the stage to redeem the image of the Republic of Kenya,” Aden Duale, the majority leader from Kenyatta’s Jubilee coalition, said on behalf of the motion.
Opposing the resolution, minority leader Francis Nyenze warned: “We’ll be seen as a pariah state, we’ll be seen as people who are reactionary and who want to have their way.”
Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Nairobi, said that Kenya had the support of African Union in this matter, and that other African countries could now follow suit.
“This motion and what comes after is very significant in many ways. Not only is it a show of defiance against the International Criminal Court, it also sets a precedent for other African countries that would feel aggrieved enough to start processes of their own,” she said after the vote.
The Hague-based court was set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes, and countries voluntarily sign up to join.
Any actual withdrawal requires the submission of a formal request to the United Nations, a process that would take at least a year.
A withdrawal could however preclude the ICC from investigating and prosecuting any future crimes.
We'll be seen as a pariah state, we'll be seen as people who are reactionary and who want to have their way
Cases could then only be brought before the court if the government decides to accept ICC jurisdiction or the UN Security Council makes a referral.
Amnesty International condemned Kenya’s move.
“This move is just the latest in a series of disturbing initiatives to undermine the work of the ICC in Kenya and across the continent,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty’s Africa director.
The rights group called on “each and every parliamentarian to stand against impunity and reject this proposal,” warning that “a withdrawal would strip the Kenyan people of one of the most important human rights protections and potentially allow crimes to be committed with impunity in the future”.
Kenya’s 2007 elections were marred by allegations of vote rigging, but what began as political riots quickly turned into ethnic killings and reprisal attacks, plunging Kenya into its worst wave of violence since independence in 1963.
Kenyatta and Ruto were fierce rivals in the 2007 vote, but teamed up together and were elected in March in peaceful polls.
Judicial process ‘in motion’
Earlier on Thursday, the ICC’s prosecutor said that justice must run its course in the cases against Kenyatta and Ruto.
“The judicial process is now in motion at the International Criminal Court. Justice must run its course,” said Fatou Bensouda, the court’s chief prosecutor, in a video statement on the court’s website.
Ruto’s trial comes about two months ahead of that of Kenyatta, who faces five charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, persecution and deportation.
Both Kenyatta and Ruto have said they will cooperate fully with the court and deny the charges against them.
William Schabas, an international legal expert, told Al Jazeera that Kenya’s obligations under the Rome Statute regarding those who are already being prosecuted “continue even if the country decides to pull out of the courts”.
“In a strictly legal sense, there’s no obstacle [to their continuing prosecution] but it’s probably going to be harder to get Kenya to cooperate,” he said.
Regarding popular support for the motion, Al Jazeera’s Soi said: “It really depends on which side you look at. The ruling coalition says this debate is being supported, but surveys show that Kenyans don’t want their own country to pull out of the court.”